In testimony Nov. 1 before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, Celadon's chairman and CEO Steve Russell argued that truck driver background checks implemented by the Transportation Security Administration as part of the USA Patriot Act impose higher operating costs and deter drivers from obtaining hazmat endorsements.
Background checks for hazmat endorsements discourage drivers because they cost too much, said Russell on behalf of the American Trucking Associations.
Russell said that the trucking industry supports the security objective but that the current background check program has been "marred by a number of bad decisions."
Because of those decisions the process applies to materials that pose no security risks, Russell said. The costs of the checks are nearly double what background checks for aviation workers cost. The program is implemented in a non-uniform manner across the states, has an insufficient number of fingerprinting locations and limited hours of operation. The ultimate impact may be the industry's inability to haul hazardous materials, he said.
"The costs to drivers and carriers are unacceptably high and serve as a disincentive to obtaining a hazmat endorsement," Russell continued. "It is easy to see why drivers are discouraged."
The provision of the U.S. Patriot Act requiring commercial truck drivers with hazardous materials endorsements to their commercial drivers' licenses to undergo more stringent background checks went into effect after May 31. The endorsement and the background check are required for drivers transporting not only explosives, but also commodities like paint, nail polish, chewing gum extract and soft drink syrup.
The trucking industry currently has a driver shortage of 20,000 long-haul drivers at a time when freight volumes are increasing, according to ATA. By TSA's own estimate, the background check will result in a loss of 20 percent of the hazmat-endorsed driver population.
ATA and its motor carrier members advise focusing the screening process on hazardous materials that pose true security risks.